French Toast

Peter Burnett

Thirsty Books, £9.99

Film critic Victor Eaves finds himself surplus to requirements after one of his reviews causes a scandal. Now he has more time to devote to his side-project, a long-overdue and still-untitled book on the French-Swiss film director Jean-Luc Godard. Then suddenly Victor is in demand again: the 90-year-old auteur is to be the guest of honour at the Edinburgh Film Festival and Victor is tasked with chaperoning him. He rises to the challenge. What’s more, when the man he considers immortal proves to be nothing of the sort, Victor spots an opportunity to get his career back on track. Burnett’s latest novel is both a scabrous satire and a rollicking caper, and comes stuffed with big ideas, memorable set pieces, clever in-jokes and caustic asides. Buried within the mayhem lurk shrewd insights into artistic judgment.

The Red Thread: Twenty Years of NYRB Classics

Edwin Frank

NYRB, £14.99

Over the last two decades, NYRB Classics has published a wealth of literature, both fiction and nonfiction, from different eras and cultures. Besides championing the work of canonical greats, it has specialised in rescuing forgotten masterpieces from obscurity – digging up, dusting down, and giving a new lease of life to the likes of John Williams’ Stoner. This treasure trove of an anthology gathers together 25 pieces – stories, essays, poems – selected from more than 500 books from the NYRB Classics back catalogue. Famous faces (Euripides, Balzac, Tove Jansson) alternate with less well-known writers (Qiu Miaojin, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Rachel Bespaloff). Highlights include Eve Babitz’s sassy snapshot of New York; a choice cut from Michael Hofmann’s recent translation of Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz; and an episode from Vasily Grossman’s An Armenian Sketchbook, published for the first time in English in 2013.

Uncommon Knowledge: Extraordinary Things That Few People Know

Tom Standage

Economist Books, £8.99

Following the success of Go Figure and Seriously Curious comes a third compilation of fascinating facts and explanations edited by Tom Standage, deputy editor of The Economist. Once again diverse categories are home to an eclectic mix of information. The “globally curious” section reveals why Finland is so happy and Australians are divided over kangaroos; the “sexual selection” chapter throws light on the rise of internet dating and persistence of child marriages in Africa. Each bite-sized entry is easily digestible. Some findings are heartening, others sobering. One or two questions render Standage’s title a misnomer: “What is Interpol?” surely constitutes common rather than uncommon knowledge. However, most cover unfamiliar territory and prompt many surprises: carrots used to be white; most refugees do not live in camps; donkey skins are the new ivory. Edifying and entertaining in equal measure.